The history of Jersey's first airline
Jersey Airways' entire fleet on the beach at West Park at the same time
Jersey Airways was formed in 1933 with a capital of £120,000 by local businessmen Bill Thurgood and L T H Greif, and farmer J A Peree.
Thurgood had owned a motor bus company in Ware, Hertfordshire, before selling it and moving to Jersey. He experienced a very rough boat crossing and vowed that nothing would make him repeat the experience – so he started an airline company to avoid that happening. He had noticed how wide and flat St Aubin’s Bay was and thought that he could cheaply run a plane service from the Island to mainland Britain.
The first commercial flight took place on 18 December, with a passenger service from Jersey to Portsmouth. The airline had its first maintenance base at Portsmouth Airport, and moved to Southampton Airport in 1935. The first flights from Heston (with a special bus connection from London) to Jersey began on Sunday 28 January 1934, flights from Southampton began in March, and a service to Paris operated during summer 1934. In its first full year, Jersey Airways carried 20,000 passengers, using a fleet of eight DH 84 Dragons, each capable of carrying eight passengers.
On 1 December 1934, Channel Islands Airways was registered as a holding company for Jersey Airways and its subsidiary Guernsey Airways, which had been formed a week earlier. Shares were bought by the Great Western Railway and the Southern Railway. This allowed expansion, and six four-engined DH 86s and two DH 89 Dragon Rapides were introduced in 1935 to replace the Dragons. A service to Rennes, in France, operated from 8 January 1935 to 29 March. A Plymouth-Jersey service began in April 1936, and to Exeter, Dinard and Shoreham in 1938.
Despite the difficulties of operating from the beach, with a flight schedule at the mercy of the tides, the airline prospered and was counted among the most successful in the British Isles. Such was the demand for flights at peak holiday periods that it was not uncommon for all eight of the airline's fleet to be on the beach at the same time.
Operations were not without their complications, however, because any mechanical problems resulted in aircraft having to be manhandled up the West Park slipway to be worked on on dry land, safe from the incoming tide. No aircraft were damaged by the waves but the coach used as an improvised waiting room for departing passengers was caught by the incoming tide and damaged beyond repair after being submerged beneath the waves.
By 1935 Bill Thurgood was looking to expand his aviation business, launching United Airways, which was to operate between Heston, Blackpool, the Isle of Man and Carlisle.
Flights moved from the beach to the new Airport in 1937, and business was booming when war and the German Occupation brought everything to a halt. Following the liberation Channel Islands Airways resumed scheduled services in June 1945 using ex-RAF Dragon Rapides. Jersey Airways and Guernsey Airways flights then terminated at Southampton and at Croydon.
The company looked on the airports in Jersey and Guernsey very much as their own, but gradually they had to face competition from other airlines operating charter and then scheduled services.
An indication of Jersey Airways' pre-war ambitions is the fact that they applied on 14 October 1938 to the Air Transport Licensing Authority for permission to operate four major routes (see picture in gallery below).
They wanted a daily service to Southampton; a daily service to London via Southampton and Portsmouth; a weekly service to Exeter and a bi-weekly service to Brighton.
In 1947 the Labour government nationalised the UK airlines, including Jersey Airways, to form British European Airways (BEA). The Channel Islands authorities resisted this move, feeling that it was unacceptable to be dictated to by the British Government, who had no legal jurisdiction over the islands. However, it was made plain that flights from the Channel Islands would not otherwise be allowed to land in England, so they bowed to the inevitable, and the airline staff, the eight Dragon Rapides and their routes all became a part of BEA on 1 April 1947.
The States did manage to retain ownership of their airport, but were pressured into expensive repairs to the damage left behind by the Germans and then into upgrading facilities to meet the post-war demands for flying.
- ''Flight'' magazine reports of Jersey Airways operations
- Giffard Bay's maiden flight from Heston
- DH 95 Flamingo, Jersey Airways lead the way with a new aircraft in 1939
- Jersey Airways back to business after the war
Click on any image to see a full-size version
Six of seven planes lined up on the beach at West Park ready to depart, showing just how busy Jersey's seaside 'airport' became in the mid-1930s. Jersey Airways had eight planes in their fleet at the time, so presumably this photograph was taken from the eighth. The coach which served as a waiting room for departing passengers was caught by the rising tidy soon afterwards and damaged beyond repair